Footballing rivalries in Africa mostly stem from the northern side of the region. Middle Eastern nations like Egypt and Algeria take up most of the limelight when it comes to that topic, and to be fair to them, the flair and ferocity they bring out is fully deserving of it. However, down in the south, one match brings together the same level of animosity. Hailing from Johannesburg, South Africa, this is the Soweto Derby between the country’s two most successful football clubs, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.
Hailing from a country where football takes the back seat to rugby and cricket in terms of finances and development, the ambition and passion of those attending this clash in Johannesburg is not deterred. The match between the Pirates and the Chiefs is held in high regard, not only in South African football culture, but South African culture in its entirety. Although this isn’t one of the older rivalries in football, the animosity between the two teams is strong, and that is largely fueled by the origins of this rivalry.
This clash stems from Soweto in Johannesburg, where Orlando Pirates were formed in 1937, becoming one of South Africa’s oldest football clubs. Donning their famous black and white colours, they were mostly a club for the people, with much of their playing squads including players who worked in rural areas and gold mines, giving them a sense of relief away from their rigorous work and coming at a time where apartheid was taking its toll upon the country’s inhabitants. At the time, the Pirates maintained a strong rivalry with another Soweto-based side, Moroka Swallows FC, but that would soon be usurped after the formation of Kaizer Chiefs by one of their own.
One of the Pirates’ most popular players in the 1960s was Kaizer Motaung, a native who was an explosive forward for the side. Having joined the club at a very young age, Motaung rose through the ranks and made a successful career for himself – much of which came from his partnership up top with Percy Moloi, thus garnering interest abroad. In 1968, he moved to the Atlanta Chiefs, a side participating in the North American Soccer League and playing under the tutelage of West Ham United icon Phil Woosnam. After several successful years in the United States where he would also represent the Denver Dynamos, he would return home to South Africa, but discovered a problem that he wanted to fix.
Upon his return, Motaung was set to feature once again for the Orlando Pirates, but found the club in a huge turmoil as an incompetent administration were running the club into the ground. Determined to stay away from this flailing giant, he set up his own club in the Soweto region of Johannesburg, thus satisfying his own passion for the game and furthering the opportunities that the locals could enjoy. The club was initially called the Kaizer XI, playing only local friendlies and unofficial competitions, but as they continued to grow with the expertise of their founder, they became an official club, now known as the Kaizer Chiefs.
The name of the club is a combination of their founder’s first name and pays homage to Motaung’s first team in the NASL. Formed 43 years after their rivals, the two clubs had their first meeting in January 1970, although this was not an official competition. The teams met in a local tournament sponsored by a Johannesburg brewery, where the winning team would get a hefty $100 for their success. Due to the unsustainable financial situation, investing in resources to form an official league in South Africa would be unreasonable, and for that reason, it was mini-competitions like these that kept the spirit of football alive in the country.
The $100 prize money, however, would not be heading into the pockets of either team. They both lost their semi-final clashes which meant that the first chapter of South Africa’s most illustrious football rivalry would be written in a third-place play-off match. The action on the pitch did make up for it, though. The match finished with an astonishing score line of six goals to four in the Pirates’ favour which, to date, is still the highest-scoring fixture between the two sides across all forms of competition. This was a prelude of what was to come, for the drama and intrigue was set to increase, and they were assisted greatly by the country’s improving sporting nature.
The first match set the tone, and that played a role in South Africa banking on its football. In 1971, the first-ever black-only professional league started in the country and in April of that year, the Pirates and the Chiefs met in a league match for the first time ever. This would prove to be just as enthralling as the friendly they played 14 months prior, but this time, it would be the Chiefs who were on the right end of the scoreboard. They staged a dramatic comeback to win 4-3 – the goal that won them the game came just three minutes from time – and this would prove that investing in football would be worthwhile for the country.
And while the league started strongly, there was great room for growth in South African football, which led to the creation of the Life Challenge Cup (now known as the Nedbank Cup), the country’s premier domestic cup competition. To no surprise, it was these two teams that contested the first final of the competition in 1971, with the Chiefs coming out on top. This final required two editions – a replay was played to determine the winner after the initial clash ended in a 2-2 draw. That game ended 2-1 in the favour of Kaizer Motuang’s team.
The two teams would continue their domination of the cup. After winning in 1971, the Chiefs would retain their title the following year, before seeing the Pirates win it for the three years after that. Between 1971 and 1982, either one of the Pirates or the Chiefs always took part in the final, including a meeting in the final itself on four different occasions. Although, never during that period did the Pirates get one over their local rivals. It wasn’t until 1988 that the team from the Orlando township would win in a final against the Chiefs. This result, too, came after a replay – a 2-1 success after the initial final ended 1-1.
Despite being more than four decades younger and, in many ways, being born out of the blue, Kaizer Chiefs have been the more successful of the two clubs, not only in head-to-head clashes, but in terms of honours as well. Since South Africa got a sophisticated league and cup structure, the Chiefs have held a major advantage. They have won the league and cup more times – with the latter coming to the Chiefs about two-and-a-half times more than the Pirates. However, while the Pirates are lacking in domestic prowess as compared to their rivals, their major source of pride comes from the continental scene.
The older club can boast about becoming the first club from South Africa to win the CAF Champions League when they did so in 1995 and to date, that is one competition the Kaizer Chiefs have failed to succeed in. The Pirates’ class of ’95 was one of the most exciting teams in African football history. It featured the Nigerian goalkeeper, Williams Okpara, who put in a mammoth display in the final against Ivorian side ASEC Mimosas, Edward Motale, who had the privilege of hoisting the trophy in Abidjan and Jerry Sikhosana, the matchwinner in the final. Other than that, there were the likes of Helman Mkhalele, Brendan Silent and Bernard Lushozi, to create a formidable outfit.
Over the last few years, the derby has seen a bit of a dry patch. At the start of the rivalry, the game saw goals galore, but it is quite the antithesis in the modern day, with the focus shifting towards the passionate fans. Goals have reduced significantly across all competitions – there has been an average of 1.95 goals across the 27 meetings between the two sides in this decade – a figure that hardly makes it the feistiest of games in world football. However, as stated, the fans are a spectacle on its own and they do not disappoint when these two fierce rivals square off against each other.
As with any local derby, the fans in the Soweto Derby have a huge role to play, and that is explained well by Rossé Marrai-Ricco, the head of social media for Soccer Laduma and Kick Off Magazine – two of South Africa’s best sporting publications: “Football is the most followed sport in South Africa – it caters to the masses – but it doesn’t have the same financial support and development structures rugby and cricket may have. People come dressed up like it’s a carnival in Rio de Janeiro. They wear different outfits and they sing and dance for the whole 90. What you’ll see at the Soweto Derby is fans carry loaves of bread or cabbage to the game and wave them in the air. This is a message to the opposition that their team will be ‘eaten’, or [can be met with chants like] ‘we’re going to have you for dinner.’”
As the derby picked up steam over the years, the fans have complemented that, showing up in great numbers and catching the eye in the most significant style. As witnessed several times during the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, the local public is never afraid to sport the extraordinary and they don’t disappoint during a clash between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs. Everything ranging from hats depicting their region in Johannesburg to wigs donning their club’s colours and war paint to get them geared up for the game is on display here and that just adds to the festival that is South Africa’s biggest football match.
But while stadiums are almost always packed to the rafters, which forms an incredible atmosphere and sighting – especially at Johannesburg’s famous Soccer City stadium – there can be some problems controlling the crowd. One of the most recent issues concerning the fans came in July last year, where two fans died before a cup game kicked-off. Inexplicably, the derby was allowed to go on instead of being postponed to a later date and this caused a huge outrage amongst both sets of supporters, with many believing that the match would ideally have been rescheduled had it not been between the two teams from Soweto.
The worst incident came in 16 years prior to that in 2001, when 43 people were killed and over 250 were injured in a stampede at the Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg. The stadium, which has a capacity of just over 60,000 seats, overcrowded itself and it is believed that there were at least 100,000 fans at the venue, thus causing the issue. Another major loss of life occurred in 1991, where 42 lives were lost. This time, it came as a result of raucous fans pelting objects, which set off a stadium and the subsequent disaster. To give you a perspective of how important many believe this game to be, the incident in 1991 occurred during a pre-season friendly between the two teams.
Crowd trouble and disasters have been a frequent fixture in this match. Right from the off, it has been difficult to control both sets of supporters and that just shows how big this match is in not only in South Africa, but in the whole continent itself. A clash filled with drama and excitement, passion and flair amidst the backdrop of colour that captivates the watching world, the Soweto Derby is one of the most enticing in world football. Born out of a father and son story, where the one wouldn’t exist had it not been for the other, this has an incredible story and derby day itself is frantic, dividing Johannesburg to the maximum.